• Colin Doyle CFO

Innovation means being open to new ideas

By Lisa Benson

If you do a Google search on “what is innovation?” you’re bombarded with multiple definitions from leading experts, respected publications and even the dictionary. You will also find many articles that quote the overly ominous, “Innovate or die!” refrain and illustrate the point by citing failed businesses like Woolworth’s, Kodak and Blockbuster. But innovation within your accounting firm need not be overwhelming or scary at all. In fact, it can be a lot of fun and lead to greater revenues.

So what exactly is innovation? The string that binds all the definitions together is that innovation exists when something new, whether it be a product, process or service, is added to your organizational mix that results in added value or increased efficiencies. True innovation will typically have a positive impact on both the innovating business and the end client.

For example, some of you are old enough to remember a day before ATMs. If you needed to get cash, deposit a check or do virtually anything with your money, you had to physically go to the bank during the hours they were open. All this changed in the 1980s, when ATMs started showing up at banks, allowing customers to perform basic banking transactions when they wanted. There was concern and skepticism at first, but before long we were all using them. The consumer benefited by having more access to their money and greater flexibility in when and where they could conduct transactions. The banks benefited because they could reduce headcount and get access to deposits more quickly.

This is a perfect example of disruptive innovation. It completely changed how an entire industry conducted business and how consumers did their banking. Apple’s introduction of the iPhone is also frequently mentioned when experts are discussing innovation. When you look at life‐changing examples like these, it’s easy to feel intimidated and, frankly, impossible to embrace innovation at your firm.

Don’t worry, though, incremental innovation is much more common and much easier to achieve. It can be something as small as making minor changes to a process that makes it a little bit better or a little bit faster, or adding considerable value to a client with an adjustment to existing services.

In fact, many do this without knowing they’ve innovated — and therein lies its beauty. It doesn’t have to be crazy technology, sweeping changes or large corporate endeavors (though it can be) to be considered truly innovative and make a difference that allows you to stand out from your competitors. And it doesn’t have to mean you’ve created something brand spanking new like the iPhone. The point is you introduce something novel that makes a positive impact.

Being innovative shouldn’t necessarily be a standalone project or goal. It has to be part of the culture of your company, where everyone is encouraged to introduce new ideas, regardless of title or years of experience. In fact, it’s often those that have spent time in different professions who bring some of the best new ideas.

But let’s be clear: being innovative means being open to bumps in the road too. Nothing new or ground‐breaking ever came about smoothly and without the risk of failure. The greatest innovators had their fair share of flops. The beauty is they kept trying. We don’t remember the failures but instead we revere them for the successes.

How can you be innovative? The first thing you must do is assess your current processes. Are they running as efficiently as they could be? Are there parts that could easily be automated with some simple software? Are there steps that currently take time but bring little value? Or would adding a new process at the beginning of a project make it much more efficient in the end? Talk with your staff to find out where changes could be made. They are your front lines and can tell you what is working and what could be improved.

Next, listen to what your clients are telling you. Where do they have additional needs? Are there opportunities to introduce new services that would appeal to not only current clients but also attract an entirely new stream of prospects? Don’t fall into the trap of throwing out a good idea simply because “we’ve never done it that way before.” Be open to out‐of‐the box or even what seem like crazy ideas — those can be the ones that bring the most value. There could be a whole other market out there that you could be serving if you are open to new ideas and make the effort to innovate within your firm.

Innovation can take place in any size firm, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or a larger, more established organization. All it takes is viewing things from a different perspective, listening to what your staff and your clients are saying, and being open to making a change!

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